Sunday, October 31, 2010

Day two - First Day in the Saddle part 2

On my way back to practice I thought about what Mark said about working with young horses, or more specifically, babies.

Here's an embarrassing confession. It hadn't really clicked in my head that Smokey was a baby - I thought of the whole "baby" thing as a term of endearment. Not a literal description of what he is.

Over and over people would tell me how cute my "colt" was.

Colt? I didn't have a colt. This is a colt:

Smokey, to me, was not a colt. He was a horse.

But of course, he is really a baby. Mark explained that for the first three + years of a horse's life he can do whatever the heck he wants. Eat when he wants. Run when he wants. Pester when he wants. Then, at 3 or so the other members of the herd put their hooves down and the baby has to toe the line.

Smokey, like all babies, needed to grow up and realize that he had a job. That there were expectations that had to be met.

And it was my job to do that.

I need to keep my signals simple and clear.

The next time I came up we worked on stopping without the turn. That's when Smokey got his new nickname from Mark.


It took a while, but we got to a nice, clean stop without turning.

By the way my phrasing was off in my last post. The idea was to focus on a spot where I was going to stop and just keep that spot. Not compromise. We had to stop when I was facing the spot I was looking at, period.

Whew. That took a while.

Being compromising by nature was not a good thing. But we got it done.


We left the clinic to jet down to the East Mountains of Albuquerque to pick up my niece and drop off Donna who was looking forward to a quiet evening. My niece and I went to meet bloggers!

Justina and Don, from Morning Bray, Val from Fantastyk Voyage and a surprise from Lisa from Laughing Orca Ranch!

It was a bit of a wait for dinner, but the food was great and the company even better. We laughed, shared stories, learned top secret answers to questions we always wondered about (See? this is why you have to go to dinner with bloggers. Ply them with food till they talk!).

And we celebrated Don's and my birthday! Yep, we're just a day apart.

Here's my rather cloudy cell phone picture. But the memories are as clear as a bell.

Val, Me, Justina, Don, Lisa. And a pretty ravaged meal. Yum!

Wish I could have bundled them all up and brought them home with me. But in some jurisdictions that's considered kidnapping.

Shame, really. :)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Day two - First Day in the Saddle part 1

Warning. Ridiculously long.

We arrived on Friday morning bright and early. I'd been up for hours, unable to sleep in because of the excitement. Smokey apparently felt the same.

Oh, wait. That's his "whoopee grain!" face.

It was surprisingly cold, and I was grateful for the layers I had on. Unfortunately I had underestimated the power of the wind and I was one freezing Texan in New Mexico by the time things were getting started. I pulled out some blankets and snuggled in, ready for the clinic to start. My rides were scheduled for the afternoon so I could settle in a bit and see how Mark worked.

Rain, Mark's unbelievably cute, intensely trained dog.

We riders had elected to change formats from the one on one hourly format to the "group" format.

The "group" format - or what I'd call the double one on one - is the only format they do in Europe now. And I can see why. Having done both, this is far superior.

The one on one hour format is just that - you work with Mark for an hour, then leave the arena. In this double one on one you work with Mark on whatever it is you want to work on for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Then you ride off to the back of the arena to practice. In the back of the arena Crissie is there watching you ride and giving you feed back, or helping you get unstuck. You know how it is, you're there with the instructor and everything seems very clear, then when you're on your own it slips through your grasp? This fixes that part completely.

Then, after you've practiced and everyone has had their round with Mark, you come back up to check in, work on something different or fine tune what progress you made. Due to this format I won't have much to report on the riders I rode with because I was too busy working. I'll just cover a few highlights, posting on a few other riders throughout. For this post I'll talk about this team.

First up in the morning was this woman and her palomino. They had ridden together for a year but things that had started well were starting to go not so well. At first they checked saddle fit. That was a problem so they got a new saddle on the horse - no more pinching shoulders (I had an empathetic flashback on that one).

Still the palomino mare was still not feeling well. She was sensitive to the touch at her jawbone. She mouthed the bit constantly. They switched bits, and it was marginally better. They managed to do some work on "softening." But by the next day it was clear. This mare had severe TMJ - caused by power floating.

Mark said they are seeing more of this kind of problem. A previously easy going horse will become resistant as a result of TMJ. The changes take place slowly, over months, eventually getting to the point where this mare was. The new method of power floating - using power tools - can result in the tools heating up to the point that they actually melt the enamel. In some cases the back teeth become smooth as glass, making it very difficult to grind. The increase in effort required causes the TMJ and often results in trouble throughout the body of the horse.

Mark noted that he was going to be going to "dental school" next year with Spencer LeFlure, a dentist who has taken the entire concept of equine dentistry to a different level. You can learn a whole lot more at this link. He even fixed Pat Parelli's horse, apparently (it's on the website).

If you have time, watch this video (skip the first 2 minutes, it's just a long intro).

I would like to note that during this entire clinic Mark never says "you need to buy this bit" or use "this dentist." He's not a marketer of anything. He's willing to tell you what works for him and what he's seen in other horses. But there's no sell in this guy.

Over the next few days the woman and her palomino worked on ground manners - her mare was walking right into her - and ground tieing. While they didn't quite get to do what she had hoped, they did find out that what was going on wasn't likely to be an issue of training. It was pain.


The temperatures kept dropping like prices at a garage sale after lunch. A wonderful woman, Jenny, who had been on a clinic auditing tour for 10 days (boy, can I get that kind of job?) offered me a down coat - which I borrowed for the next two days. I was toasty warm and able to focus.

But dropping temperatures meant we'd be going indoors.

Smokey had never been in an indoor area. And most of my challenges with Smokey have been in just a regular arena, where his stops, his turns, and his steering all seem to come apart.

Donna encouraged me to to ground work first and I laughed. No kidding were we going to do ground work! I was planning on spending a good bit of time on the ground, walking him around the arena where the canvas and metal creaked and flopped. One end was a little sandier, there were a were odd things all over, but the sounds and lack of horizon were what seemed to be the most upsetting.

We worked for a while. I even got a little rear on the ground and had to ease the pressure back (which had been pretty low, but apparently not low enough). I encouraged someone else to go first (I was "technically" first, although there was no real order), giving Smokey a chance to get used to all the noises, the crowd reactions, and to accept this environment.

I got in the saddle and we rode around in at a walk and at a trot. I tried to remember some of the things Mark had talked about in the morning - keeping reins tighter, riding with intention. When it was time to ride up for my turn I wondered where in the world we'd start. Smokey just wasn't the horse he was on the trail, and I didn't understand what was going on.

I introduced Smokey - who was by far the youngest horse at the clinic - and explained what was going on.

"How's his stop?"

I demonstrated. It was non-existent. After a few turn stops we halted. "He's never like this on the trail."

"That's because the trail is doing the leading, not you."

I didn't understand this, but frankly had my hands full of squirrely horse and didn't get to explore that idea. Mark immediately told me not to flex Smokey, which is what we'd been doing when he got like this. "While you're here, you will never, ever flex his neck."

Okay. As it turned out the flexing had been what had unhinged his steering completely. But more on that on the second half of this post. At this point we'd just work on our stop.

So for the next 45 minutes or so we worked on stopping with intention and clarity. (Thanks to Trail Rider for the photo below). Sure, we're stopped there, but probably it took us 30 minutes to get to that. Plus Mark was using some sort of force field (I'm only partially kidding).

Slowly, slowly we tried different approaches. We tried just plain stopping but whenever we faced the audience we just sidepassed into the wall. So we worked on stopping using a turn. That worked better to get the idea across.

Have you ever shot a gun? Mark asked me. Yes, I replied. (Actually I was a marksman in college)

"That's what I want you to do. Focus as if you were shooting a gun. See the target and stop facing it."

Then it started to come together. Our stops got crisper. Then Mark had me ease up on the cue completely. "Just stop," he said.

I cleared my head. I felt my focus get sharp, my intention simple and clear.

We're stopping I said in my mind.

And Smokey stopped.

I heard the intake of breathe from those watching. It took all I had not to cry with joy at this feeling of connection.

I headed to the back of the arena, marveling at what I'd just experienced.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Day one, the demo

Smokey wondering if "clinic" means "alfalfa" in New Mexican

We arrived early in Santa Fe on Thursday, early enough to claim a nice parking spot and stall for Amigo and Smokey. Carlos, the manager for Challenge New Mexico (a therapeutic riding center and our host location for the clinic), was wonderful, helping us back into place, unhook our trailer and get set up.

Now of course we can unhook our own trailer. But I've long ago come to a place where if someone is willing to help then I'm willing to accept it. When I was younger I might feel I needed to make a point of doing it myself.

I'm so over that.

Slowly people arrived and the demo got underway (the full clinic really would start on Friday).

Now if you ever have a chance to take part in a clinic with Mark Rashid - whether as a rider or an auditor - you absolutely must, must, must take part in the demo. Because this is no ordinary demo. This is not some guy riding around on a horse showing how he can do a bunch of cool things with a horse. In fact the one rule at the demo was we could not ask anything about horses. No conversation about "I have this horse..." or "a friend of mine has this horse..." or "let's say, just hypothetically, you had a horse that..."

We were all taken aback by these ground rules, but abided by them, curious what else we could possibly talk about.

This demo was about understanding energy and space.

Mark showed, through a series of exercises, how controlling the space and controlling the energy (or perhaps, more accurately, merging the energy) you could change just about anything.

Along with controlling space and working with energy we learned the importance of intention. At one point I was trying one of the energy exercises (where we push against resisting individuals) and nothing was happening. He came over and said "Now move them." With that intention in my mind, along with a sense of energy and control of space, they did, indeed, move when they hadn't before.

We, as people, are like concert goers with ear muffs, compared to horses when it comes to feeling energy and intention. Our horses have nothing muffling their senses, and I imagine that to them, who readily read energy off a herd or just each other, we must be a jangling mess. I suspect that when they encounter someone who flows, clearly and consistently, it must come as a tremendous relief.

The demo wound to a close and we stepped out into the cool night air from the indoor arena. We drove back to my father's house in the East Mountains of Albuquerque (where we were staying) filled with wonder. This was already like nothing I'd expected. So much of what I was hearing were things, philosophies, really, that I needed in my non horse life even more than in the saddle.

The next day I'd be able to ask every horse question I had, and Smokey, never very good in an arena, would step into a new place, with me on his back.

And there we would begin to find our way.

Sunrise, Friday.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Launching Pad - Cloudcroft

This is where we'd go. But getting there...

There is just something about New Mexico. One moment you are in scrub desert, the next you are next to pines and aspen groves. If you've never traveled around the Alamogordo area of the state, if you've never been to Ruidoso or Taos, you'd think New Mexico was scrub desert.

I grew up in El Paso, the final stop before you hit New Mexico, and we all knew about the treasures hidden in the mountains of New Mexico. And one of the least known treasures is Cloudcroft. A poor relation to the more popular ski areas of Ruidoso (Ski Apache) and the even pricier Taos, Cloudcroft is a funky little mountain town - emphasis on the little.

It's ten hour drive to the mountains from the Texas Hill Country, the longest ride I've ever attempted with a horse in a trailer. Luckily I was traveling with a very experienced horsewoman in our barn owner, Donna. She had a system for keeping the horses watered in the trailer, all the gear we could possibly need once we got to our destination, and was prepared for every contingency.

'cept for the chainsaws. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We arrived on Tuesday night. We were staying at her friend's cabin while the horses stayed on a little strip of land in a large round pen close to an entrance to the Lincoln National Forest. It's a good thing too - there are no stables in Cloudcroft, making horse camping a little challenging. Donna's friend, M, has purchased a narrow strip of land for keeping her horses near the trail. We unloaded and blanketed the boys, my Smokey and Donna's Arab Amigo. Then we blessed them, told them to stay out of trouble and headed for our own "stalls."

That evening some serious weather blew in and I tried not to worry. They were blanketed, in a secure spot. But they weren't where I could simply walk over to a window and see them. I just hoped they'd be okay.

Smokey and Amigo, joined at the hip.

We headed out Wednesday morning and found both horses no worse for wear, despite the wind and lightening that had danced over the mountain the night before. We fed and got ready to ride.

This little trailer has been a great one. I love that tack room!

Smokey, asking if there will be grass where we're going.

We headed up the hill to our first obstacle. Earth moving equipment.

That's right. We are in a national forest and for some reason the rangers had decided that this was the time to resurface their parking lot. A huge "blade" tractor was making it's way across the road back and forth.

I was suddenly grateful for all the trucks and trailers at the Concepcion ride which had totally desensitized Smokey to large contraptions that make loud BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP sounds when they back up.

We made our way past the construction and laughed about what desensitization our horses were getting.

Little did we know...

We crossed a highway and began to head up the trail. Already it was beautiful and we were still in sight of the highway! Tall pines surrounded us, a sapphire blue sky outlined each branch. Here and there golden Aspen announced the full swing of fall, their shimmering leaves like the wind's applause, greeting us with enthusiasm at every turn.

Just as we were about to cross the forest service road I saw a large 18 wheeler cross in front of us.

"Is that a logging truck?" I asked Donna with a bit of concern.

"Oh, maybe," she said, non pulsed.

I really hoped it wasn't a logging truck. Maybe it was just delivering a ridiculous amount of supplies to a deep in the forest ranger station.

We crossed the road and made a few more turns. That's when the buzzing started.

You know the sound of an angry bee hive? That buzzing that sounds like a million little wings beating in irritation at your approach? It was that kind of sound.

"Um, is that chain saws?" I asked.

"Huh. I think it might be," said Donna. She didn't slow her horse, so I kept following her.

Another truck came up the road behind us and we scurried into the forest to cut through a closed camp site.

"That's definitely a logging truck," I said. The buzzing was getting louder and more intense. Every now and then a bit of the buzzing would stop, as if someone stopped their chain saw, then started again.

"It does look like a logging truck," she admitted, riding on.

I rose in my saddle slightly, spotting the tell tale yellow color of a construction machine.

"That's a bulldozer. Are you sure we should go through there?"

"I think they are just right here. We'll be fine."

I bit my lip. Don't be a wuss, Winter. What's a few chainsaws?

Right about then we rode up to this sign:

And a dozen or so guys coming in and out of a few acres of dead fall with reflective vests, hard hats and, of course, chainsaws.

"It's just on the other side of this," Donna said as we dismounted. "We'll walk them through."

Of course we will, I thought. And hopefully they'll have all four legs when we get to the other side.

We picked our way through the deadfall and I asked one of the workers how long they'd be there.

"Un semana, creo," he said. About a week.

Lovely. We walked through the middle of the chainsaw hive, our eyes on the meadow just beyond. Remarkably neither horse took a single misstep or spooked even slightly. I suspect Smokey was at the point where he decided his best shot was just following quietly to get through all that craziness.

I knew how he felt.

We made it! Like my "don't shoot me, I'm not a deer" reflective vest? Slimming, no?
Yeah. I agree. Makes me look like a giant frig magnet. But hey, we didn't get shot.

Finally, through the chainsaw obstacle we made a few turns in the mountain and the buzzing sound went away and we were immersed in beauty. We walked in the narrow valley between rising mountains, the path where ice and snow linger until the sun finds it in late spring to finally turn it to water.

The rains that have covered the mountains made for a lovely green path for us. Along the mountains we spy splashes of golden Aspen, standing together like festive dinner guests, ready for the holiday party in their brightest clothes.

We took dozens of pictures at every turn. Here are a few of my favorites:

Donna and Amigo

Smokey, contemplating our next step.

This is what it looks like when you cross Nature's outstretched palm.

After a couple of hours we decided we'd gone as long as we could. More challenging weather was expected and we didn't want to push our luck. We stopped at a watering hole and let the horses have their fill, then let them hand graze while we hit our own lunch supplies.

Smokey did well the whole trip, never spooking once - except when he had to cross a stream about 6 inches wide. Sure, have guys jumping out from behind trees with chainsaws and he's fine, but WATER CROSSINGS?

We went over and over and over the water until we could go across without turning into a hunter jumper pony on a cross country circuit. Finally we just plodded across.

At our lunch stop we decided it was time for some portrait pictures...

Here's a few tips for taking pictures in the wilderness with your horse.

First, warm up your subject with a few kind words and a kiss on the nose.

Then, realize that the heck with the pictures, just love on each other for a second or two.

Then pose, knowing that the real photos are the ones you are holding in your heart. But at least you'll have one to hang on the wall.

And, on the way home, stop for grass. Cuz that's why we came, right?

It was the best day I've ever spent on a horse, the kind of day that makes all those disastrous horse times completely fade away. One of the top 10 non mommy related experiences I've ever had. (Cuz nothing compares to mommy moments, ya know)


The next day we loaded up and headed for Santa Fe and the Mark Rashid clinic. A few folks who attended/audited have already posted, but I'll be doing a series of posts on my experience and observations over the next few days. Yes, I'll be yammering on and on. You know how I am. And yet, here you are! LOL

Here's who's already written (that I know of):

Lisa, from Laughing Orca Ranch (Lisa got several pics of me and Smokey! Woot!)

Dan and Betty, from Dan and Betty's Place

So, more to come on the best horse week EVER.

Now, to catch up with you! How are you doing? :)

Monday, October 25, 2010


If I could use just one word to describe my experience over the last 5
days, this would be it. Transformative.

Of course there are other words too. It's a story that involves
energy, adventure, focus, intention, friends, family, and some guys
with chain saws.

Yeah. Chain saws.

Can't wait to write about it, but I wisely didn't bring a laptop. So
instead, I'm soaking it all in.

But I promise a report soon.

Looking forward to reconnecting with everyone in equine blogosphere
over the next few days... Hope you have been riding!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nearly thwarted

Just a quick email update from the road. Everything nearly got
cancelled when our truck's transmission went out on Sunday night.

We got the bad new at the transmission shop on Monday The earliest we
would have the truck back would be Friday.

My heart sank. Would the event I have been planning for for a year be

Fortunately the BO and friend (who I had wrangled into going) was able
to offer her truck!

So tonight we are sitting in a lovely home in cloudcroft, our horses
down the mountain in blankets, and tomorrow we ride thru golden Aspen
groves in the Lincoln national forest.

Thank goodness the transmission went out on Sunday. Can you imagine
what would have happened if it went out during this trip?


The good news is we ARE here, and Friday will be the first clinic day.

Take care and I hope to catch up with everybody next week

(NM bloggers, if you haven't heard from me toss me an email at
wprosapio at gmail dot com. Dinner is on for Friday!)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

BlueBonnet Expo - photo palooza

With 5 weeks under saddle, Manu prepares to wow the crowd.

We went to the Bluebonnet Horse Expo today - to shop for deals and see demos and clinics. All proceeds from the expo benefit the Bluebonnet Horse Rescue. Steph joined me and Sierra on the long trek to Austin, and let me tell you we will NEVER miss this event! We got some screaming deals - I found some riding pants and half chaps, a saddle blanket, a bosal/mecate set, all used, all in great shape, all ridiculously cheap.

Our shopping needs sated, and wallets lightened (for a good cause) we watched the demos. I'll post some photos over the next few days, here's one series to get you started.

The first demo was of trainers working with some of Bluebonnet's rescue horses. I was most struck by this trainer who didn't just get her horse, after five weeks, to accept a saddle. She got him doing complex Vaquero ballet.

Here's his arrival at the rescue photo.

His name is Manu (of Spurs fame). The trainer guessed he was a Arab Thoroughbred mix, although his paper work says Arab Quarter. He doesn't have much quarter, she said. Here's his adoption page at Bluebonnet.

Cyd, the trainer, said that she tries to find what a horse's gift is and she felt he had the right mix of gait and showmanship for this kind of training. She said she thinks he'll be excellent in competitive trail as well - very solid mind on this guy, who arrived at the rescue half starved.

The trainer's website is here:

It was incredible to see them work. Here's two videos...


Friday, October 15, 2010

Don't hate him because he's Parelli

I know it's very in to hate Pat Parelli in some circles. While the massive commercialism of the Parelli enterprises is a turn off, and some of the most frustrating, badly behaved horses can be "Parelli" horses, I still see good in what he does.

This short clip on CNN is worth a watch - if you do click on it, watch to the end where he shows the rider how to drop the reins and have her horse back up (it takes him four tries to get her to drop her reins).

CNN and Parelli

The clinic I'm going to is a Mark Rashid clinic and auditors are welcome. You can click here for info - it's in Santa Fe.

More later - I'm crushed with work as I try to prepare for being gone an entire week! AHHHHHHH!

Monday, October 11, 2010

A horse of a different color

If you recall, this is how Smokey looked 2 months ago. But you may have noticed a change in his parade picture.

He does get smokey in the winter:

Dapples and grullo? Where did my buckskin go? Ah well, he'll be back in the spring. In the meantime, I am appreciating this handsome dark guy.

Maybe he'll be bay by next week - when we're off to New Mexico.

I'm planning a meet up in Santa Fe (or Albuquerque) for dinner on Friday the 22nd after the first clinic day - any NM bloggers who are interested, drop me a line (email me @ wprosapio at gmail dot com)!

BTW: The final post on the concepcion ride is awaiting photos. Hopefully later this week!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Help - what the heck is that, oh dressage folks?

I know NOTHING about dressage. But I know when something is way cool. On this video from WEG of the spanish horse and rider, what is that cool move he's doing at 5:32?

Color me a Fuego fan.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Return to Conception - Part 2

The drive to TR's hunting ranch in South Texas is the kind of ride that reminds you of how big Texas is and how much open land there still is. You drive for an hour on the freeway, but once you hit the highway you feel the miles stretch and the horizon extend further than you thought possible.

We had a four vehicle caravan - TR had rented a huge RV for the trip and the kids, sensing adventure, all rode in there with TR, leaving us adults to our own music for a change. We had a three horse, two horse and one horse rig. One too many given the number of drivers. We kept in touch by radio, talking in old CB code.

I listened to old podcasts on my phone, laughing at the kind of humor that makes my kids roll their eyes. It was heavenly.

By the time we pulled into the ranch there was just enough light to get in a quick ride on the ranch. It's fun to ride on TR's ranch, especially with him along as a guide. Every trip there I learn about another plant and what the deer will and won't eat and why. He takes the stewardship of this land to heart and has worked for years to manage the deer and flora on the place.

Recent rains have changed the land quite a bit from our last trip. Grasses had grown so high that he'd spent the last weekend mowing paths for us to ride. Which was a good thing since feral hogs had worked up several pits that would have been completely invisible in the high grasses on the farm roads.

We saddled up our horses, Smokey was high headed, Cody was relaxed. Sharon was on her steady eddy, Ebony. TR's daughter V was on Lola. Even with Smokey's alert and eager body language I wasn't too worried. He always starts out with an eager energy and I didn't sense any mischief or irritability in him like I did the day he had that bolt. And given the fact that we were riding with our daughters I knew we wouldn't be cantering - V isn't ready for a trot let alone a canter after her fall.

Personally I'm going to hold off on cantering until I can get in an arena this weekend and work on control at that speed. I sure wasn't going to push my luck.

TR got on his Paso Fino, Vaquero. Vaquero was one anxious horse. He even gave a tiny gaited horse rear. He sweated up immediately.

"We're going to have an interesting ride tomorrow," said TR, his irritation clear.

He and Vaquero completed a few more spins and we hit the trails.

The girls rode their horses behind us. Smokey and I quickly took the lead, with TR and Vaquero occasionally moving to the front and then the back. It surprises me that Smokey is always so willing to be in the front. He has his occasional minor spook (which consists of a sudden hop on all four legs - very rideable), and yet he still seems to feel completely confident in the front of the pack. When he rides in the middle, his big stride and energy results in him drifting forward and before I know it we are back in the front again.

We rode and rode, talking about plants and marveling at the views until the sky turned from blue to a dusty purple, the orange of the sunset just a thin line at the horizon. The horses knew we were on our way home and everyone worked on keeping the jigging to a minimum. The next day would be the big test. Vaquero seemed to settle down, V was worried about her mare. Cody jigged a bit. Smokey was a bit more forward, a bit hard to stop. I worked on it here and there, and he slowly remembered his halts.

We set them out in the paddocks that TR had cleared out, and went in to eat dinner.

That night the kids camped out in the RV and the adults took on the hunt cabin, aka the man cave. It's a renovated little house, a little rustic, a little updated, and a welcome place to relax. I've gotten used to the posters on the wall of deer jaw extraction and antler measurement guides. I've never hunted but really have no problems with it. I was a marksman in college, love the challenge of shooting, especially skeet. But that said I prefer the emotional distance that comes when my meal is wrapped in cellophane.

In my mind deer have it better than cattle. Really life is good for them until one day BLAM! All done.

We crashed out, planning a later than usual start (and thanks to me and Cody, it was really later than usual). The next day we'd be off, our third ride to Concepcion.

Next I'll fill in a few blanks on the trail ride, and by then I'll hopefully have a bunch of pictures from Sharon's camera of our long ride on the ranch...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Return to Concepcion

Smokey, in the parade.

There is something about the full circles we make in life that bring us to a place of reflection.

Sometimes those circles show what marks you've missed - resolutions unkept, goals not met.

Sometimes those circles show how you've grown - dreams realized, work that has paid off.

The ride to Concepcion is that kind of place for me, a place where three times I've gone with my horses at the time. Each time has been a surprise. My crazy bucking horse was well behaved in my first trip. My horse I thought I was a steady eddy had a total meltdown.

And this time I was there with a young horse, one who has never been ridden along side the road, or with more than a dozen horses at a time.

I described the overall event and community in my Concepcion posts (listed on the side bar under "best of horsecentric") so let's talk more specifically about the ride. This will give you an idea of what a horse has to deal with.

There were 300 horses in the ride this year. The entire ride takes place along a grassy shoulder of a state highway with a few houses but mostly barbed wire fences on the side. On the road is a constant stream of trucks hauling trailers, some pickups with music blaring, cars with windows rolled down and little kids hanging out of them and waving, and in one case a trailer with an actual bar-b-que grill fired up, flames shooting alarmingly high.

In the ride horses ranged from high stepping Aztecas, to old cow horses, to irritated ponies, to quarters, to arabians, to a Fresian. Some horses were spinning and dancing the whole way, clearly not particularly broke, but with riders who were determined to ride - and capable of staying on through rears and a few bucks.

There are riders who clearly started their libations three days earlier and they are barely hanging onto their horses, some just starting to partake as the ride takes off at 9:15 AM. There are charros who could ride with feathers as reins, others are such new riders they simply hold onto the saddle horn and let the horse follow the herd.

This is a 15 mile ride that takes 6 hours to complete, so it's filled with stops and starts, a long lunch break, and clumps of family and friends riding together. Every now and then someone will canter up the line, and some horses will consider joining the run. Through it all the ride organizers move up and down the line, trying to keep the group more or less together.

Then there's the big parade at the end where these hundreds of horses close ranks and walk down the middle of town with folks on the side, many of whom are holding umbrellas, waving plastic bags with candy, shouting.

There's probably no better place to find a few holes in your horse. Between the energy of the giant herd, the intensity of the environment, and the sheer weirdness, all the little threads hanging loose will begin to pull and snag.

With Canyon, he was an experienced endurance horse. Being in a big crowd just meant move out, spooking once, but otherwise doing well. With Cibolo, the big herd was intense and he slipped through my controls like a car on ice (but responded to the firmer hand of Trail Rider).

How about Smokey?

I don't think I could have asked for a better ride from him. He started out very keyed up and we did many turns in the beginning to give him a place for his energy to go. My energy stayed even, and I turned him to give him that release.

Then I discovered his walk was very big (I guess the word is "forward"), and I didn't want to pull on his mouth the entire ride so I allowed him to keep that big stride as long as he stayed at a walk, then we'd do more of a turn than a circle so we could get back to our little sub-herd routinely. Eventually the turns weren't as tight, and not as quick -- he relaxed.

His stops were not very good, and the side of the road with horses streaming all around us was not a great place to work on fixing it. I elected instead to work on stops throughout the ride in little ways, finding places we could stop while facing the group, leaving before he felt the need to move. Stops were something I'd work on back at the ranch, with interesting developments (which is another post).

At the midway point we came to the big community watering tank and I got down and lead Smokey to it (my knee was killing me so I needed to walk desperately). He approached it slowly, like a dog approaches a something they've never seen before. He'd reach out, sniff, then pull back. Then stretch a little more, look at the horses on either side, then pull back. Then he slowly touched the water and, after a moment, began drinking like a champ. It was so neat seeing him go through the process of discovery.

He had one big spook when we came up to a little side drive where someone was spinning and attempting to gain control of their horse. They had been completely hidden from view when all of a sudden he spotted them and squirted out a few yards, then relaxed when it was clearly not a puma.

He crushed beer cans quite willingly, never once spooking at the sound.

He crossed the bridges (which he hadn't yet encountered in his training) with considerable concern, sometimes a bit askew, but he crossed them and listened to me. I thought of the little fake "bridge" the trainer uses and was grateful for her thoroughness.

And this was made all the greater of an achievement for what had happened five days earlier. Five days earlier he'd bolted on me on the trail. Nothing too serious, but enough to give me major trepidation about the ride to Concepcion.

Riding on the Ranch, the day after the parade.
DH on the right on Woody, Me on the left on
my horse that I used to think was much, much shorter.

I decided not to blog about the bolt, because I didn't want to create any energy in that direction. Frankly I didn't want my DH or friends to start worrying. I wanted my blog to be filled with confident comments that would bolster me on the journey.

And the fact is I knew why it happened - I didn't ride the horse I had that day and pushed things with him too far. That whole experience is a longer post and one worth telling at some point, but suffice it to say I decided I needed to treat the incident like you do when your child has a melt down in the grocery store. You deal with it and move on. Aware, but not overly concerned.

While you take precautions, you don't presume it will be a regular occurrence.

Instead I reset my training with Smokey. I realized I was letting him get away with little things, and they had added up to the point that on a bad day, a day where he was already in a not so great place, things just went to heck.

I worked on being clear and fair but not settling for anything short of what he absolutely should do correctly. Period. Simple and clear. Consistent. I felt him come around. But I only had two days of training between the bolt and the trip.

And I just hoped it would hold when we went to Concepcion.

It did.

There's more to tell - how Sierra and TR's Daughter did on the ride on their horses, and many pictures from riding on the ranch. (Once again I don't have photos from the trail ride because DH was too busy driving the big rig.)

I'll share more of that in a few days, find the words to convey how excited and relieved I am to have had such a great trip with Smokey. But for now I'll just smile in wonder at this place on the circle, at this point on the journey.

And be grateful for the support of friends and for one very sweet morgan.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Packed for Concepcion

You'd think we were going to WEG.

I stopped by the barn to load just about every bit of tack we have into our trailers' tack room. Came home and started packing my personal tack, so to speak. Traveling with two horses, two kids, and a spouse is no small task. We are going to be in the middle of nowhere, with no cell phone and no email.

While I'll miss reading everyone's blogs, I'm really looking forward to being unplugged.

Tomorrow we load up and head out about 1. Trail rider has been texting me and calling me; it's really his party we are crashing and like any good host, he's working hard to get everything sorted out.

Too much to do. But what gets done, gets done. I just need my boots and my tennies.

I'm excited but nervous. Last year was such a disaster. I'm on a young horse who needs miles. I need miles.

I guess we are about to get some.

Time to take my blog name seriously. Breathe.